Groups rally in Annapolis against Maryland Senate pretrial release bill

Capital News Service

About 100 people rallied on Tuesday, with the support of Maryland legislators, against a Senate bill they said would walk back a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals regarding bail reform.

The bill, which passed in the state Senate and is under consideration in the House of Delegates, establishes new requirements and standards for the release of defendants before their trial. The bill would increase the use of bail, according a state analysis.

"We will not stand for this," Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, a Democrat, said. "We want to take the money out of the bail system. We want to take the profit motive out. We stand with the Court of Appeals."

In February, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled that judges and court commissioners must consider other ways to encourage defendants to show up for trial before they consider monetary bail.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George's, who testified in front of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that his bill helps to protect victims of crimes.

"As amended, (the bill) establishes a clear and convincing burden of proof for preventive detention as part of federal law," Muse testified on March 1. "As a minister, I have to bury people and I have to see the results of persons' (actions), such as domestic violence. When I see that, and I know we're releasing persons and we don't even know where they are — we have to protect victims."

Advocates, including Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh argue that cash bail disproportionately affects those in poverty who can't afford to pay and then remain in jail.

Frosh, a Democrat, issued advice last year that said it was unconstitutional for a defendant to be held in jail simply because they could not afford the bail. Advocates have said that when a defendant is held in jail because they can't afford bail, their family loses a source of income and the person may lose their job or home.

Alsobrooks and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, a Prince George's County Democrat who represents part of Anne Arundel County, said they had seen defendants who were in jail only because they could not afford bail and lost their jobs or their homes because of the time spent incarcerated.

Speakers from the Senate and House were joined by members of United for Justice, which included representation from Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform, and the Coalition for a Safe and Just Maryland.

The speakers and attendees of the rally, including Jenny Zito, criminal justice reform facilitator for Women Indivisible Strong Effective, argue that the Senate bill benefits the bail bond industry.

"It looks like pretrial reform, but it's not," Zito said. "It undoes the progress of the Court of Appeals ruling."

Speakers at Tuesday's rally argued that cash bail largely affects the poor and minorities who remain in jail because they can't afford bail.

"Justice is supposed to be blind but it isn't," Peña-Melnyk said. "It is not right to be incarcerated because you are poor."

Peña-Melnyk said that the legislature should allow the Court of Appeals ruling to be put into effect before any changes to the rules are made through the General Assembly. She said it was not the job of the legislature to get in the way of the court ruling.

"I'm tired of having being poor criminalized," Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery County, said. "We need to stop this horrible bill being passed. It's a shame that it passed in the Senate."

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